Cat had no illusions about her strange new assignment. It was more than likely a convenient - and polite - way to get rid of her.

She was more of a liability than anything else in the Matrix, always a little slower than the others. They blamed it on her baggy clothing; Trinity was forever badgering her about the comfort and utility of catsuits. What she couldn't bring herself to tell them was that she would be self-conscious to the point of paralysis in anything so revealing. How she managed to stay chubby on a steady diet of single cell...

When Neo had approached her about the mission, she smelt a rat immediately. After all, Neo could clobber Smith - or even Smiths. There was no reason why anyone had to be sent to find out his new limitations and capabilities. It had to be a matter of curiosity, if it was even that. It was more likely an excuse to get her out of the way during the crew's forays into the Matrix dressed up as a mission of such import that she was lucky that it had drifted her way.

Sometimes, it was so damn easy to get tired of Neo. Cat thought that he wore on even Trinity, who at first glance was devoted beyond belief. The captain would never ask for help, but sometime Neo's insecurities grated on her already-fraying nerves, and Cat's silent understanding came as needed support. Cat admired her toughness, the steel core that saw her through Neo's many near-death experiences and her own harrowing escapes from the digital prison. It was much easier to envy her, though, with her perfect figure in its little black catsuit, perfect boyfriend, easy confidence.

It was impossible to run any shorter handed than the Neb had before its little accident. Morpheus was all but useless in the grips of his crisis of faith, and though Link never complained, his wavering commitment to endless months onboard anyone's ship was obvious. Cat's skills, moderate as they were, were absolutely necessary to Neo and Trinity if they planned to navigate their way back into the Matrix. No one else was crazy enough to take them on board, which is why they settled for Link's patch job on her run-down ship and a promise to keep her on if only Trinity could take over at the captain's chair.

In two short weeks, her weaknesses were written all over the missions. Trinity had barely avoided the upgraded agents last time, taking a shot in the lower calf as she ran back to extricate the slower Cat from a well- timed ambush. It was clear that she was no fit sidekick for the One and his mate.

Neo'd asked her to do this thing the next day. She'd pretended, just for a moment, that the flirtatious look in those famous eyes was genuine, that he saw her as just as beautiful as his latex-clad Trinity. At least the fat was good for something this time; she'd have to stay plugged in until the ship came back for her, although it might take as long as a month if it ran into trouble. Trinity, she thought with some satisfaction, would starve to death.

Trinity looked a little sad as she dropped Cat off beside the ruined Neb, which Link had somehow managed to patch together into a safe connection for one person. It was a rare moment when she felt a perfect affinity for the woman; her ship, her Sekhmet, was her life. The devastation that flicked across Trinity's features was for more than a hunk of metal.

Cat barely caught Trinity's "good luck" as the older woman turned away, unable to watch this stranger enter what remained of her ship. "Thanks," she whispered back, rattling at the old keyboard before she began the unpleasant process of tube insertion necessary for a stay of any length in the Matrix. Assimilating into the Matrix with no operator, especially for a length of time, was a dangerous feat; even Neo had never tried to pull it off. It was necessary, he'd said, to keep Smith from getting suspicious. After all, the traitor could hardly make her offer with the One watching.

She would never have considered doing something this crazy before, she thought as she slid a hydration IV into her left arm. This mission was more than half-suicidal, but she was willing to do anything to get away from Neo and Trinity. It was strange to think that she'd voluntarily leave her ship, but now it was so different, so empty. The contrast between the old crew and the new one couldn't have been stronger.

Stop delaying the inevitable, she told herself. You're half-sulking, half-terrified and the longer you stay here the worse it'll get.

Cat closed her eyes as the metal spike slid into its place. She barely had time to blink before the arm slammed around her throat.